Raw Chocolate Cake with the Wannabe Chef
December 5, 2010

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Unlike so many foodies, I did not grow up in the kitchen. I have no memories of laying sugar cookies out on a baking tray with a grandmother who smelled of cinnamon and nutmeg, nor of the first time my mother taught me to poach an egg, nor of spooning hot, homemade raspberry preserves into mason jars with a crafty aunt. I have no stories about my first triumphant casserole or soup or even my first time boiling water for pasta: all of my early kitchen forays were disastrous, and the memories are best left unspoken. I didn’t lack interest in cooking, and I don’t think I lacked talent. But I did lack an education.

The women in my family always had a slightly antagonistic relationship with the kitchen. They did cook, and when they cooked, they cooked well–as lovers of my Yaya’s lamb burgers or my Mom’s pork roast will attest. Let’s try to put aside for a moment, please, the fact that I ate totally differently from everyone else in my family, and always have, which was a constant source of tension when I was growing up; this topic is one I’ve written about at other times here on the blog. The point is, they did know how to prepare a smashing (omnivore’s) dinner. But both my mother and my grandmother had the same attitude about cooking: if there was a short cut, you took it. Frozen veggies? Check. Boxed grain pilafs? Check. Bottled dressing? Check. Frozen lasagna? Check. You get the idea.

It actually wasn’t until my early teens and twenties that I realized that fresh broccoli, chopped and steamed till tender and bright green, was a lot better than the mushy frozen stuff, or that making rice in a pot, no matter how deadly dull, is deeply rewarding. I credit my gradual education in kitchen arts to Chloe’s mom, Barbara, who has been preparing food from scratch for decades now and never failing to create effortlessly elegant meals, and to a few of the moms I babysat for, all of whom were kitchen-savvy.

Most of all, though, I have to give myself a pat on the back. In my post-eating disorder years, I vowed that I would teach myself to cook. I suspected—and I was right—that learning to cook would help me close up the chasm I’d created between myself and the food on my plate. I also just wanted to learn: cooking is a life skill, and it was one that I lacked. For a long time, I had assumed that working mothers of my Mom’s generation had turned away from a “homemade” attitude in the kitchen because they simply didn’t have time for it. As a young, idealistic feminist, I wondered too if they had made conscious choices as feminists in the 60s and 70s to not be slaves to pastry crust and pot pie. Perhaps they did, but as I’ve said before, I don’t believe that being a home cook is at odds with female independence. In many ways, I believe that the act of self-nourishment is empowering, and that cooking can be a healthy part of that.

So, armed with a little collection of cookbooks and some issues of Martha Stewart’s magazines, I gradually taught myself everything: how to chop an onion, how to roast a pepper, how to press and bake a perfect piece of tofu. It wasn’t always easy, and I messed up frequently (I still do), but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Years later, I still feel tremendous admiration for young people who are on the way to teaching themselves how to be chefs. Which is why I wanted my friend Evan to do a guest post today on his own culinary education. If you don’t read Evan’s blog, The Wannabe Chef, I can’t urge you enough to start. He is one of the funniest and smartest food bloggers I know. In the last year, Evan has gone from writing primarily about running, fueling, and chocolate to writing about his joyous attitude as a chef-in-training—all within the confines of a dorm environment and a student’s budget. I’ve marveled from afar, not only at his recipes and fine prose, but also his sunny attitude and fantastic sense of humor (if you want constant hilarity in 140 characters or less, I recommend you follow his twitter feed during an episode of The Real Housewives of New York City.)

Let’s also not forget that one of the most amusing sights of this summer’s Healthy Living Summit was to see Evan—probably the only man in the room—at a cocktail party surrounded by a coterie of lady food bloggers. Crafty, Evan. Crafty.

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When I asked Evan to write a post on what it’s like to be a young person who is teaching himself to cook, recipe by recipe, Evan replied that, since culinary self-teaching and Ancient Roman politics are the two things he knows most about, he’d be glad to. (I’ll spare you the geeked out conversation we then had about my days as a high school Latin scholar.)  He then said he’d write something honest and true to himself without inserting too many Golden Girls quotes.

Evan, you did a fabulous job, and you gave me an amazing raw dessert to boot. Everyone, welcome Evan: student, Classicist, and wannabe chef.

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Hi, Choosing Raw readers. My name is Evan and I was very honored to be asked by Gena to write about how and why I would teach myself—or anyone, really—to cook, even at a young age. The “how” was simple—I read food blogs, slowly weaned myself off box-mixes to scratch made food, and set a few pots on fire in the process(who knew you shouldn’t fry rosemary over a burner?!). But as to why—that’s a question that gets to the heart of a person.

As for a little background on me, I’m 19 studying Classics and History at Brown University while living off meal plan and writing recipes for my blog, The Wannabe Chef. I’ve never had the chance to take a formal cooking class, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying to learn all I can. Besides being a chef, my other goal in life is to make it on The Today Show as a guest or replacement host (I’m looking at you, Matt Lauer).

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The moment I decided to pursue being a chef as a career was a bit of a “light bulb moment”. I was cooking in the dorm kitchen one day, a relaxant for me from the stress of homework and tests, and had the thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could do this for a living?” At that point I realized that, yes, you could do this for a living; in fact, plenty of people do and they’re called “chefs”. It wasn’t long after that that I created The Wannabe Chef.

So why cooking? Well, the only answer I can think for that is “why not cooking?” I’ve always appreciated good food, even when I was young and considered frozen buffalo wings “good”. When I first started learning how to cook and bake out of a big red brownie box, it amazed me that I could create that which I love. As I grew more and learn more techniques, cooking became a craft; each recipe has its own character just like a piece of art and draws different emotions with its flavors. And what I love so much about cooking is being able to create and share that with others.

Raw Chocolate Hazelnut Cake With Chocolate Avocado Buttercream

I love cooking for family at those rare occasions I get to see them during the holidays. I want to share a cake that I made for Father’s Day last June that I think Choosing Raw readers will love. I had already made a few raw cakes that Summer, but never something like this. Because I love cooking and learning new techniques, I wanted to push myself to make something more fanciful and presentable—a raw cake that could stand its own in any crowd. I really think I achieved that.

Father’s Day Raw Chocolate Hazelnut Cake With Avocado Buttercream

  • 2 cups pitted dates(about 30)
      • 2 cups hazelnuts
      • 1 cup walnuts
      • 1 cup cocoa powder, divided
      • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
      • 1/3 and 1/4 cup agave, divided
      • 1 large avocado

1) Pulse the hazelnuts and walnuts in a food processor until coarse and crumbly and resembling flour.

2) Add the dates, 2/3 cup cocoa, 1/4 cup agave and salt, and process until the mixture is uniform in color and a smooth texture.

3) Remove the dough from the processor and divide into 2 equal-sized portions.

3) Shape each ball of dough into a 6-inch diameter, round cake using your hands and pressing down.

4) Add the avocado meat to the food processor along with the agave and reserved cocoa powder and blend until smooth.

5) Take 1/3 of the frosting and form an even layer over the bottom piece of cake.

6) Gently add the top layer of cake over the frosted piece and continue to frost with the remaining buttercream on the top and sides until all is used up.

And yet, what I remember about that Father’s Day isn’t this cake recipe. Instead, I remember everyone who was at that table that day and all the positive things they had to say about this cake. When I cook for people, I feel that bond. And that bond is what has urged me to drop all I know and teach myself to cook.

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I’ve always been ambitious, and I’ve always been stubborn. I’ll dive into projects I’m completely unprepared and unqualified to do and see them through. And I’ll give whatever that is everything I’ve got. Basically, I’ve always believed in living for a dream, and teaching myself how to cook has been living that dream for me. If you share that, I challenge you to put yourself out there, try something new in the kitchen, study and learn recipes as if they were math equations, and—most importantly—enjoy every moment of it. And if your dream is something else, go after that with the same gusto, too. You’ll never get where you want to be without hard work, but if it’s worth it you’ll be willing to put in the effort.

For more of Evan’s work, check out The Wannabe Chef. See you back here tomorrow!

Categories: Raw

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    38 Comments
  1. By far the best raw chocolate cake I have ever had! It’s so rich I thought I was eating fudge!!

  2. Just wanted to pop in and say that I finally made your butternut squash smoothie, substituting pumpkin for the squash. It was seriously the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it while watching the tiny snow flurries fall.

    Thanks for introducing the Wannabe Chef; he’s certainly a role model for all us students.

    I hope you’re doing well. 🙂

  3. They experiment with vegan foods occasionally, but never the raw food world, this should be interesting, thanks again!

  4. Wow, nice guest post! Not only does the cake look AMAZING and doable, but it is nice to read about another student teaching himself to cook. I applaud you! And you’re next door to me apparently. JWU has a really good Culinary program you know!

  5. I didn’t learn how to cook as a child either…but going RAW – while it is “un-cooking” taught me how to cook. It taught me about putting meals together from scratch using whole foods. It taught me flavor combinations. It taught me about presentation. Going RAW and NOT cooking, was the best cooking education I ever learned.

    Evan – Love that recipe and love your passion and enthusiasm for life in general. Good luck in all that you do – so glad to have you with us! I am MOST DEFINITELY making that cake for Christmas. See if it passes the Dad test myself. 😉

    Lauren
    Raw Is Sexy

  6. Great post! By the way Gena, per your introduction, I started listening to Tennis and saw them tonight in Philly. GREAT band! Best I’ve seen in a while and absolutely adorable!

  7. What a cool post from both of you! I’m also a Classicist – how funny! I’ll have to go ‘meet’ Evan over there. Enjoyed the writing, lightheartedness and god humor all.

    love
    Ela

  8. I loved this post, Gena. When I moved into an apartment my sophomore year in college, and had to cook for myself for the first time, my roommates made tremendous fun of me because I brought home a box of potato flakes from the grocery store. Sadly, it didn’t occur to me that mashed potatoes could be made from real potatoes, because Mom and Grandma always made them from a box!

    I have to shake my head at the food we ate most nights when I was a kid (fish sticks, tater tots, meatloaf, canned peas, etc.). But now that I’m a mom, I have a new respect for the difficulty my mom (and her mom before her) faced putting dinner on the table almost every night after taking care of three kids all day. These days, getting nutritious food in my mouth is the easiest thing to put on the back burner (so to speak), and I take a lot of shortcuts, like ordering in, getting premade food from Whole Foods, and eating lots of leftovers. Cooking (or even un-cooking) is the last thing I feel like doing after putting the baby down for the night (and as you know, my husband is busy cooking for other people most nights at the restaurant, and we have very different tastes, so we usually eat separately). So my challenge, as our baby is on the brink of eating solid foods, is to get reenergized about cooking, introduce her to fresh, healthy foods, and set a good example by eating healthy and fresh myself. Would love to see a guest post here sometime from a working mom (or dad, for that matter) — someone who has very limited time and energy to cook healthy food.

    And by the way, Evan’s last paragraph made me think of you, Gena. When it comes to living one’s dream, you are my role model. 🙂

    Love,
    Katie

    • Katie,

      That’s an AWESOME idea for a guest post, and has me thinking! I can only imagine the challenges of cooking for a little one; I’m just now getting used to the rhythms of cooking for and with a partner.

      And as for that last comment — I’m simply not worthy.

      xo

      • Cool! I’d love to see a post from you, as well, about the transition to cooking for/with two. Though I’d love it if my partner and I could have dinner with each other more often, I’ve found that cooking for two turns into more of a production, for better and for worse, depending again on time/energy levels. And BTW, you absolutely ARE worthy!

        • There was a definite learning curve! Our first few dinners in October took me about 90 min each, if not more time still. Lately, I’ve got it down to an hour or less (usually less), and breakfasts, even fancy ones, are no more than 25. Progress! I’ll definitely do such a post.

  9. Evan, I appreciate your raw cake! I see that you are gluten-free. Do you appreciate raw uncooking for its ease with GF ingredients? Like no special flours needed! I do!

    I have to admit I have a really hard time reading omnivore food blogs. I can’t get past the dead animals. I appreciate that many of them make vegan-friendly recipes, and have adaptions, but there are so many wonderful vegan food blogs that I just don’t go there. It’s nothing personal, just a boundary I have.

    • That’s a sentiment I can definitely appreciate, and a wise boundary to set for yourself. I’m pretty selective about what I do and don’t look at on omni blogs. One thing that keeps me reading is that I know my comments (and people checking out CR) have inspired some people to be more vegan, which is great.

      • Even if I eat vegan 89 days out of 90, I consider myself an “omni.” That said, with exception of Natalia’s (I can’t help reading everything she writes), all the food blogs I read these days are raw or vegan. I’m truthfully not much of a cook, but I’m inspired by vegan blogs (and by veganism). I guess if Jessica Prentice (author of Full Moon Feast) had a blog, I’d read it, but sadly, she doesn’t. I was reading Gluten Free Girl as religiously as Choosing Raw (she’s almost as good a writer) until she came out with a defense of factory-farmed pork; I haven’t peeked since.

  10. Gena- you gave Evan and amazing intro and every single word is true! I love it when some of my fav bloggers support each other!

  11. I have always been an Evan and a Gena fan 🙂

    I have been reading Evan’s blog for over a year and have ALWAYS marveled, Gena, at the same things you do about him..his depth of recipes, his ability to cook this all in a DORM ROOM, on a student budget, and not to be sexist or age-ist, but he’s a 19 yr old guy…not what one thinks of when they think of great recipes!

    But Evan, you always pull out some recipe gems! Like this cake and frosting..yum!

    And Gena, I grew up in a kitchen/house where the women could cook to beat the band…to the point that I was scared from even going into the kitchen and trying til my early/mid 20s. Food allergies necessitated finally overcoming my cooking fears. My mother’s recipes were so overly complicated that I was pretty much scared off from trying but have realized cooking doesnt have to be hard, complicated, or make you sweat bullets over “the perfect dish”.

    Anyway, great post, both of you!

    🙂

  12. I didn’t learn how to cook as a kid, either. We were a frozen foods family – my mom was raised by a single dad in the era of TV dinners. I didn’t learn to cook until I went vegan and I’m so glad I did!

    Thanks for introducing us to Evan’s blog, I’ll definitely start reading.

  13. GREAT guest post Evan! You have actually inspired me many times to bake more often, and the gluten-free thing is just a (really good) bonus. I’ve made your pb cookies and pastry crust because the recipes are so simple!

    Gena: I actually teared up a little while reading your portion of the post. I think your writing is making me itch to meet you. Or at least admire you from afar.

  14. Great guest post Evan! We love the cake!!! And glad everyone else that day did too 🙂

    You are right about pushing yourself to follow a dream… we are trying to push ourselves each day with our little bakery 🙂 We love learning new things in the kitchen too and we feel the best way to learn is by actually doing it! You are such an inspiration for us and so many people to not be afraid of playing around in the kitchen!!

    ~The Twins

  15. What a great post by Evan. I grew up eating those same frozen meals, or eating out most meals, not knowing anything about nutrition. Then I taught myself to cook, and eventually showed my mom about eating healthy, but with stuff that’s easy to prepare.

  16. Great guest post! I also don’t have memories of cooking growing up (despite the fact that my mom is indeed a very good cook…if only I’d known to take advantage of it when I lived at home!), so I’m kind of working my way into it now. It’s always an adventure.

  17. I can’t wait to make this! Thank you so much for the guest post!

    Also, I think I would get along with you two – I’m a Latin/Classics nerd too. What up.